In 2014, Emma Watson, who we probably know best for playing Hermione in the Harry Potter films was invited to deliver a keynote at the UN. The presentation she ended up delivering spearheaded a global campaign that ignited the biggest feminist movement since the suffragettes.
As far as subjects go, few spark as much debate as feminism. The last feminism talk I worked on has had over a million views, 7000 comments and numerous mentions in the press (not all of them good!) - it is an absolute minefield.
What must have made it all the more terrifying for Emma was that the audience she was presenting to was disproportionately filled with middle-aged men, so her biggest challenge was getting the audience to be open to what she had to say.
The positioning of her message was going to be critical.
There are two simple questions you can ask yourself to help with this:
1. What does my audience think about my subject?
2. What do I want them to think at the end of my presentation?
In Emma's case: What are a bunch of successful, middle-aged men likely to think about feminism?
Personally, I like to put myself in the shoes of the most sceptical audience members. The ones who are at best apathetic and quite frankly have to be there rather than want to be there.
There's a good chance that some of them will be thinking...
'Eugh not another lecture on feminism, I get it. I am already on board with it. Feminism is exclusionary. Feminism isn’t for me, it’s for women.'
Feminism is for women…
That seems like a fair reflection of her audience’s mindset so it makes for a fantastic starting point.
Now let's move to the second question.
Emma was hoping to use the conversation to bring men into the gender equality movement and to do that, she needed everyone to believe that...
Feminism is for men...
These two simple statements created the start and end points for her presentation. They uncovered a gap between where her audience was and where they needed to be and her presentations message became clear as a result:
Men need to be at the forefront of the feminist movement.
So how does this apply to the keynotes and presentations that you need to deliver?
Well, putting some thought into where your audience's head is at in regards to your topic is critical to your presentation's success and it will significantly improve your ability to connect with the people you're speaking to.
Some things to consider:
Does the audience want to be there or do they have to be there?
How long will they have been sat down for when you walk out on stage?
Who was presenting before you?
How are they likely to feel about what you’re going to share?
Will they be expecting it?
Is your topic usually met with resistance, apathy or excitement?
If the answers to any of these questions aren't the ones you want to hear (your topic is met with apathy for example) this is not a problem. Forewarned is forearmed and the fact that you've been brave enough, to be honest about it will make you a better presenter for it.
Emma's HeForShe speech is still talked about today. It's considered to be one of the most powerful talks of the 21st century and its success (as you will see), was in her ability to tap into the mindset of the people she was speaking to.
Watch Emma's full talk below:
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